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February 12, 2013 posted by Albert Lang

2013 Fantasy Baseball Head-to-Head Rankings and Strategy

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Fantasy Baseball Championship Trophy

For all of my in-depth rankings breakdowns, please visit http://fp911.com/author/albertlang/. For spreadsheets of rankings visit here.

The first point: while the rankings can be modified/used for Roto/Points leagues, they are specifically (and you’ll see how/why) tailored to the 5×5 standard head-to-head fantasy baseball game. If you end up using them for Roto, be sure to watch your ratios (average, ERA, WHIP) closely. 

The second point: I separate hitters and pitchers in my fantasy baseball rankings because they are wholly different animals. I value consistency and predictability which seems fleeting when it comes to pitchers.

In a head-to-head league, to win week-in and week-out you need to maximize the categories that will impact other categories and avoid risk. In addition, since h2h is broken down into weeks, that skews the outcomes to two-start pitchers, i.e. two starts from Anibal Sanchez will be worth more than one start from Justin Verlander.

I also split my rankings between hitters and pitchers because I have a distinct strategy for drafting in an h2h league. Out of my first 10 picks, I like to use at least eight of them on hitters, and then I binge on pitchers from rounds 10-17 or so and try to grab sleepers where I think appropriate.

Statistically, hitters are easier to track and project; pitchers, on the other hand, can be dominant one year, and completely worthless or injured the next (Right, Dr. Faustus?). Quite simply, you can get pitchers who end up in the top 10 late in your draft; you can rarely do so with hitters.

Also, once the draft starts, a player’s value to a particular fantasy team changes. If you’ve secured Michael Bourn, Ben Revere isn’t worth a ton. Similarly, if you land Yovani Gallardo, James Shields might not be worth taking in the top 100. Having the ranks separate lets you focus on team/statistical needs without worrying about grabbing Gallardo because he is ranked 10 spots higher than Bourn (when you need the steals), for example.

That all said, I try to get one ace, this year that will include anyone from my top 17 pitchers. As long as one of my top 17 is around, I’m likely not drafting a pitcher.

The third point: My typical 5×5 h2h draft goes heavy on steady non-catcher hitters first. While it’s not sexy, this means you typically avoid young heartthrobs like Eric Hosmer, Starlin Castro, Evan Longoria, Jason Heyward, Chris Davis, etc. For every Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, there are a plethora of Dallas McPhersons. In addition, I eschew one-hit wonders and injury risks. You simply cannot whiff on your first four-to-five draft picks and be competitive. So I build a formula into my ranks that take into account three years of performance. This obviously negatively impacts my rating of players without three seasons of service time.

When I look at hitters for fantasy baseball, I tend to emphasize HRs and SBs and, to a lesser extent, average. That is why guys like Drew Stubbs and B.J. Upton (and similar players) appear higher in my rankings – the ability to contribute in both HRs and SBs should help in RBIs and runs. While there will never be a direct correlation, at least by emphasizing HRs/SBs/average I’m betting on something batters can control (whereas they require people to either knock them in or be on base to get runs/RBIs). Consequently, I love power-speed combo players.

Why I (generally) Avoid Catchers: Given the lack of consistent at bats and injury concerns at the position, I tend to hate drafting catchers early (so they are typically inordinately low on my board). It’s not hard to get top 5-10 catchers at the end of the draft (Miguel Olivo, John Buck, etc.) or even off the wire. I’ve never owned Joe Mauer or Victor Martinez (aside from his under-the-radar breakout year in 2004).

After the draft/auction, if you have a crappy catcher, don’t worry. The top 12 catchers last season included A.J. Pierzynski, Wilin Rosario, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Doumit, Jonathan Lucroy and Jordan Pacheco. Most of those guys were afterthoughts at draft day – certainly Mike Napoli (#13 catcher), Brian McCann (#15), Jesus Montero (#16), and others were picked up before many in the top 12.

The fourth point gets back to the second point: The LIMA plan (slightly modified) is butter to a fantasy baseball h2h manager’s bread. For several years, I used a furry creature, rarely drafted in the top nine rounds, called Aaron Harang as my staff ace. Then people got on the Harang bandwagon in 2009 and I jumped on the Atlanta Braves version of Javy Vazquez. He didn’t get a ton of buzz, yet I had him as a top 10 pitcher. Knowing he wouldn’t go early in drafts, I could wait on selecting a pitcher and get a staff ace after I filled most of my hitting positions. Two years ago, I was heavily invested in Dan Haren. Last season I went with Yovani Gallardo and Matt Garza—this wasn’t all that successful, but still competitive.

I also don’t think about trying to sweep the pitching categories each week when creating my draft board. During the season, I let my Monday/Tuesday starters do the talking. If they post good ratio performances, I hold my borderline starters back. If they have poor early week outings, I release the hounds and try to win strike-outs and wins. You can manage a pitching staff on the fly: good match-ups will always be out there and two-start pitchers are always changing. That is why you don’t grab pitchers early.

So, what do I like in a pitcher? Good ratios and strikeouts. I love Ks because, even if a pitcher has a bad outing, he’ll likely get a handful of Ks, so there is some certainty there. When you are looking at week-to-week fluctuations, anything you can be certain of is incredibly valuable. 

The fifth point: Now, let’s talk about closers. People tend to devalue closers in h2h fantasy baseball leagues, viewing them as one-category wonders that can’t be trusted to either retain their job or finish games consistently from week to week. While the latter half of that statement might be true, that doesn’t mean closers lack value. Every week, you have to maximize your results in the pitching categories. If you lock up saves, all you have to do is win four of the remaining nine categories for a tie or five of nine for a nifty .600 winning percentage. Five/nine is about 55%, whereas six/ten is 60%, so you increase your odds of winning by loading up on closers (roster permitting). This works because most h2h players eschew a bulk closer strategy and usually only have at most three. If you double that amount (depending on your roster slots/rules), you’re in good shape. In addition, you can add a decent bump in K’s.

It ain’t pretty, but that’s how trophy…let me finish, wives are earned. With closers, it’s important to remember that there is always safety in numbers. However many RP or P spots you have, you should have a closer for each of those spots. So long as you have at least one above average closer and several fringe closers, you can pretty much guarantee your team will win saves and add 20 – 40 Ks.

Albert has been playing and arguing about baseball and fantasy sports since 2002. Since 1982, he has also been largely miserable (here’s looking at you Armando Benitez) because of the Orioles and Eagles. Albert has won leagues and lost leagues, but he has the most fun debating player values. Albert typically plays in several baseball and football leagues a year. He also is an avid baseball card collector and writes about older players and their historical value relative to the Hall of Fame and their peers/current players. When not harassing league mates with trades and analyzing what categories his team performs poorly in, Albert is a communications professional in Washington, D.C. Follow Albert on Twitter @h2h_corner. He has an awesome puppy named Charlotte. You can find all of Albert's work at http://h2hcorner.wordpress.com/.
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